Amazon Has Highly Undercounted Its Carbon Emissions, Report Finds
A new report analyzing Amazon’s emissions reporting has found that the retailer is vastly undercounting its emissions. Amazon reports emissions for its own products, but not those sold by third-party retailers, even if Amazon fulfills those orders.
Amazon-branded products only make up about 1% of the company’s total sales. The majority of its sales come from third-party products, but Amazon has not counted the emissions for those products. In comparison, retailer Target counts emissions for third-party products it sells, for example, Pampers diapers, in addition to its own branded products.
For example, you can buy Sony or Beats headphones through Amazon. The brand is not Amazon, but Amazon.com is both the seller and shipper of these items. Still, none of the emissions for these products are counted toward Amazon’s carbon footprint.
When shopping on Amazon.com, some third-party products without the Amazon brand will still be “Fulfilled by Amazon,” meaning the products ship from Amazon’s own fulfillment centers, even if they aren’t sold by Amazon. A third-party sells the item, then Amazon fulfills and ships the order from its own facilities. It doesn’t count the emissions for these products, either.
This makes a huge difference in the retailer’s carbon footprint, considering 39% of Amazon’s sales are third-party products sold by Amazon, and 60% of its sales are third-party products sold by other brands using Amazon’s platform.
In the past 20 years, companies began reporting their carbon emissions to CDP, a nonprofit. Amazon only just started reporting its emissions to the organization in the past year, but it requested the information not be shared with the public.
Reveal, part of The Center for Investigative Reporting, obtained Amazon’s reports and found its drastic undercounting of emissions, especially compared to smaller businesses and competitors. Target’s emissions, available in public reports, are triple the amount of Amazon’s reported emissions, despite Amazon having four times as much revenue.
Further is the issue with voluntary climate commitments, such as Amazon’s Climate Pledge to reach zero emissions by 2040. Amazon labels some products sold on the platform as Climate Pledge Friendly, yet doesn’t count the emissions of those products. Reveal uses the example of Kleenex tissues, a single-use product to boot, that are labeled as Climate Pledge Friendly. Because this isn’t an Amazon brand, Amazon isn’t counting its emissions, but boasts it a Climate Pledge Friendly product.
Amazon argues it follows the CDP’s protocol for reporting emissions, but the protocol doesn’t give companies permission to count only their own brands.
“Everything you purchased should be included, and everything that you sell should be included,” said Alberto Carrillo Pineda, managing director of the Science Based Targets Initiative.
Product emissions aren’t all that Amazon is undercounting. According to Reveal, Amazon counts commuting emissions only for its own shuttles. Competitors like Target and Walmart count the emissions of employees’ drives to and from work. The difference is clear: in 2020, Amazon had 29% fewer commuting emissions compared to Target despite having triple the number of employees.
Despite the undercounting of emissions, Amazon’s carbon footprint has been increasing. From 2018 to 2020, it went up 36%. Not that the company seems worried about truly hitting that Climate Pledge — its 2020 sustainability report ends with a disclaimer, “The standards of measurement and performance contained in the report are developing and based on assumptions, and no assurance can be given that any plan, initiative, projection, goal, commitment, expectation, or prospect set forth in this report can or will be achieved.”